The 1955 American League pennant was won after one great race, involving the close proximation of three teams through most of the season. From April 11-May 20, during the first 40 days of the season, the Cleveland Indians were in 1st place for 25 days. They were never more than 1 game down; nor more than 3 games up. The 1st Division on May 20 was: CLE 21-11 (.656) (1); NYY 20-11 (.645) (.5); CHW 18-12 (.600) (2); DET 18-15 (.545) (3.5). At this point Cleveland was 8-6 against the other 1st Division competitors.
It would next be the New York Yankees turn to dominate. They took over 1st place on May 21, with a 9-4 victory at Yankee Stadium over the Baltimore Orioles. After home-and-home series versus Baltimore and Washington; and another series against Kansas City, the Yankees were still in 1st. New York had compiled a 14-2 record against the 3 worst teams in the league and they were still only 3 games in the lead. The 1st Division on June 2 looked like this: NYY 33-13 (.717) (—); CLE 29-15 (.659) (3); CHW 27–16 (.628) (4.5); DETT 24-20 (.545) (8).
Over the next week, playing .500 ball (4-4), New York managed to increase their lead to 5 games. But now the White Sox were in 2nd place. Cleveland occupied 3rd place 5 1/2 back after winning 1 and losing 6; including losing 3 out of 4 to last place Washington. The games between the Indians and the Senators would have a major impact on the race. New York then travelled to Cleveland to play a 4 game series. So far, the teams had played 4 times and Cleveland had won 3 of them. After this series, the Indians had doubled their number of victories, beating New York 3 games to 1. This included both ends of a Sunday doubleheader; 10-2 and 7-3.
Meanwhile, Chicago was sweeping Washington in their 3-game series. New York’s lead over the White Sox was cut to 2 1/2 games. Cleveland continued in 3rd, 3 1/2 back. Over the next two weeks, June 13-26, things stayed pretty much the same, except for a brief tie between New York and Chicago when Chicago won the first 2 games of a 4 game series. The lead promptly went back to 2, when the Yankees won the last two. New York then won 5 more in a row (the last 2 vs. Cleveland); but Chicago kept pace by winning 5 of their own.
This neck-and-neck jockeying for position was broken, as Chicago proceeded to lose 7 of their next 8 games. At the same time, New York went 5-2. On the 4th of July the Indians won 2 verses Detroit; the Yankees lost 2 against Boston; and the White Sox split a pair at Kansas City. Cleveland leaped over Chicago; and the top of the American League at the traditional half-way point in the season looked as such: NYY 52-27 (.658) (—); CLE 46-31 (.597) (5); CHW 44-30 (.595) (5.5); BOS 44-35 (.557) (8).
The rest of July was filled with exciting baseball that would change the face of the standings. From July 5-15, New York went 4-3 (including a 2 game split at Cleveland); Chicago was 6-3 (including a 4 game split with Cleveland); and Cleveland 5-4. The White Sox jumped into 2nd, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees. Over the next two weeks, while New York was playing sub-.500 ball (2-5) against the other teams in the league, Chicago was 5-3, and Cleveland 8-5 (including a 4 game sweep of Washington). But most consequential was the home-and-home series that the Yankees and White Sox played.
On July 19, the White Sox entered the game at their Comiskey Park in 2nd place two games back. New York won the first game 4-3 on Elston Howard’s 2-run HR. Chicago, scoring 4 runs in the 1st and another 4 in the 3rd, tied the series in the 2nd game winning 8-6. In the 3rd match, starters Whitey Ford for New York and Virgil Trucks for Chicago didn’t hang around for too long. The Yankees scored 4 in the 1st and 2 in the 3rd; while the White Sox scored 1 in the 1st and 5 in the 2nd. Ed Lopat (NYY) and Dixie Walker (CHW) settled things down and the score stayed knotted at 6-6 until the bottom of the 7th. Chicago scored 3 runs on RBIs by Bob Kennedy and Sherm Lollar and won 9-6. They picked up a game in the standings; and were now only down by 1.
After a couple of days when the two teams were tied, Chicago entered Yankee Stadium on July 26, 1 game back. In a pitchers duel between Chicago’s Dick Donovan and New York’s Tommy Byrne, New York won the 1st game on a Yogi Berra HR, 1-0. Walt Dropo went 3 for 4 with 3 RBI to help Chicago win the 2nd game, 7-4. The last game would determine whether Chicago would leave New York back 2 games or tied with the Yankees for first. Chicago jumped off to an early 3-0 lead. In the 9th, Yogi Berra openned the inning with a single and the next batter Mickey Mantle hit a HR to make the score 3-2. However with the bases loaded, reliever Billy Pierce struck out pinch-hitter Jerry Coleman to save the game for Chicago, 3-2. In the home and home series Chicago had made up 2 games. On July 28 the 1st Division looked like this: CHW 59-38 (.608) (—); NYY 60-39 (.606) (—); CLE 59-40 (.596) (1); BOS 57-42 (.576) (3).
The race in August was crazy as Chicago, New York, and Cleveland battled for the top spot. There were 5 virtual ties for first (once involving all three teams) and 5 lead changes. Perhaps even more remarkable was the fact that the 3rd place team was 1 or less games behind for 23 of the month’s 31 days. An example of the ups and downs of the month can be seen by looking at the Cleveland Indians. On the up side was their two series with the Yankees, winning both 2-1. On the down side, the Indians played 7th place Washington 5 times—and lost all 5 games!
While Chicago entered September at the top of the league, their fortures began to change when they travelled to Cleveland on Sept 2 to begin a 4 game series. Chicago won the 1st game, 8-1 on the strength of Jack Harshman’s pitching; and the hitting of Minnie Minoso (3 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBIs); Sherm Lollar (2 for 4, 2 RBIs); and Bob Kennedy (2 for 5, 2 RBIs). Chicago’s triumph was short lived though as Cleveland went on to win the next game 6-1; and both ends of a Sunday doubleheader, 5-3.
Winning pitchers were Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia. Supplying crucial hitting were Larry Doby (2 HRs and 2 RBIs in the 2nd game); Ralph Kiner (3 RBIs in the 3rd game); and Al Smith (8 for 13, 3 Runs scored, and game winning HR in the 4th game). After this series, Cleveland continued to play well, going 8-2. At the same time Chicago went 5-5. On Sept 13 they were 4 games back and out of the race.
During this period New York kept pace with Cleveland winning 6 and losing 3, splitting the 4 games they played with Cleveland and Chicago. When they beat Detroit 6-0 on Sept 13, they were 2 games behind Cleveland. On the 14th New York was beating Detroit again; and Cleveland was losing to its season long nemesis the Washington Senators, 3-2. Cleveland’s lead over New York was now down to one. The next 3 games that the two teams played would prove to be the most decisive of the season; as 4th place Boston arrived in New York and 5th place Detroit travelled to Cleveland.
On Sept 16, while Cleveland was losing to Detroit, 3-0 on two unearned runs and 6 innings of shutout relief pitching by Steve Gromek, New York looked like they would not be able to capitalize. The Yankees were ahead 2-0 in the 8th, when Boston scored 3 runs off of starter Whitey Ford. But they were able to pull it out in the bottom of the 9th on clutch HRs from Hank Bauer and Yogi Berra. Reliever Jim Konstanty took the win. With the 4-3 victory, New York tied Cleveland for the lead.
During the next two games, Cleveland hitters didn’t fair much better against Detroit’s Frank Lary and Bob Miller. They lost to Lary 3-1 on RBIs by Al Kaline and Bill Tuttle. Next, they lost 10-3, when Detroit exploded for 6 runs in the 6th. Meanwhile, New York was able to hold off their arch-rival Red Sox with the help of two fine pitching performances. First, Tommy Byrne allowed only 1 run on 4 hits for a 4-1 Yankee victory. And on Sept 18, with the score tied at 2, Bob Grim came on to relieve a wild Bob Turley and pitched 7 inning without giving up a hit. In the 5th, on what should have been the last out of the inning (1B Norm Zauchin dropped an easy pop foul and Hank Bauer singled), Gil McDougald’s ground out to 3B scored Jerry Coleman. It proved to be the winning run in New York’s 3-2 victory.
While New York was sweeping Boston 3-0, Cleveland could manange only 4 runs against the 5th place Tigers; and were swept at home, 0-3. It was Sept 18th, and Cleveland was now 2 games back with 5 to play. New York had 7 games left. Cleveland then split there two game series at Chicago; and New York went 3-0 vs. Washington. The Indians would need to win all 3 games at Detroit, while the Yankees lost all 4 at Boston, to force a tie at season’s end. On the final Friday of the season, New York lost the 1st game of the doubleheader with Boston 8-4; but ended the suspense with a 3-2 victory in the nightcap.
Once again, it was shown that pennant races expand the concept of “meaningful games played” to include teams who are not in postseason contention. Cleveland’s fate for the 1955 American League season was in part determined by their 9-13 record vs. the eventual last-place Washington Senators. Furthrmore, during a crucial 3-game series against the Detroit Tigers, they forgot how to hit while facing a 5th place pitching staff. Meanwhile, during the most crucial period, New York was taking care of business, winning 8 in a row vs. those same Tiger and Senators (plus 4th place Boston).
New York was lead by Mickey Mantle (.306, 37 HRs, 99 RBIs and Yogi Berra (.272, 27 HR, 108 RBIs). Berra would go on to win the AL MVP Award. Top pitchers included Whitey Ford (18-7, 2.63 ERA), Bob Turley (17-13, 3.06); and Tommy Byrne (16-5, 3.15). They played their cross-town rival Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1955 World Series. Brooklyn, after winning the 1955 NL Pennant Race by 13.5 games over Milwaukee, beat New York in the World Series, 4-3. It was their 1st ever World Championship.